Emergency preparedness from a Counterintelligence Agent

Why you need to rethink your SHTF water plan

Why you should rethink your shtf water plan - Graywolf Survival - http://graywolfsurvival.com/?p=3711

CC attribution: Ajari: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25766289@N00

I was speaking with a coworker the other day. We both share a love of firearms, and we got on the topic of ammunition. Or rather, how much ammo you should have. He stated he had several hundred rounds “in case it all goes to hell.”

I had never heard him use that term before or even mention that subject. So a bit curious, I asked “Do you have food and water set back too?”

“In the fridge and pantry we probably have 3-4 days’ worth of food.”

“What about water?” I asked. He responded by saying that he has an above ground pool, so no worries.

Palm…meet face!

I left the conversion at that, and silently shook my head. But it made me realize how much misinformation is out there regarding water.

So I decided to do a little research, and dispel some of those water myths that seem to be circulating around the internet.

I would hope that as a prepper, you have a general idea of how to purify water. You know, the whole, boil, bleach, iodine methods. But if you are new to prepping, or have just never really thought much about it, I have included a link to the US Army Center for Health water purification pdf file. It is two pages and pretty self-explanatory.

With that said, let’s DIVE into some of the more common fallacies about emergency water supply.

1) A backyard pool means you are set with a long term water supply.

I would recommend NOT using pool water for long term drinking purposes. Many of the chemicals such as algaecides that are used to keep the water clear are not safe for general human consumption.

Just because you can safely ingest small amounts doesn’t mean it is healthy in larger quantities! Nothing short of distilling that water will remove those chemicals. (No, boiling won’t work.)

In addition, sunlight denatures the chlorine. Even covered with a tarp or pool cover, within a week or two your pool’s chlorine levels will be at or close to 0 ppm. And while you might have spare chlorine on hand to continue to mix, if you have no electric power to run the pumps, filtration, and agitation, then its effectiveness will be diminished because it is not dispersed adequately throughout the pool.

And finally, what is your water plan if you are forced to leave your residence and thereby leave your pool? In essence, within just a short time, water within pools could and should be considered questionable. The risks skyrocket if it is not a pool that you personally treated.

And you obviously cannot bug out with your pool. So if your pool is your long term water solution, think again. Or at least have backup water plans.

2) You can use Pool Shock to treat water for drinking

Ok…well this is not a complete fallacy. But it isn’t as simple as you might think. Calcium hypochlorite, the main ingredient of “pool shock”, is a great way to purify water when used correctly. Refer back to the PDF file link I provided for details on how to do this.

The problem is that because pool shock contains calcium hypochlorite, folks think they can buy some at Wally World and be set. Nope.

This brand is 100% calcium hypochlorite

Most pool shock is ok in small doses. But commercial “Pool Shocks” out there are not just calcium hypochlorite. They have ‘other ingredients’ in them that could seriously hurt or kill a normal person after prolonged consumption.

Pool shock uses things like stabilizers, algaecides, and bacterostats to help keep pool water clear. Because pool shock is not considered a food item, they are not required to tell you this.

The active chemicals are not always stable, pure, and certainly not for ingestion. Some of what is sold at pool supplies stores even says on the packaging “not intended for water purification”.

This doesn’t mean you cannot use calcium hypochlorite to purify water.

If you can find a chemical supply store that sells pure calcium hypochlorite, great. (After some research, I was able to find a few online sites that offered it for sale.)

Otherwise, only use HTH Pool Shock that does not have any algaecides or fungicides. Ingredients should read calcium hypochlorite and INERT ingredients. Use a brand with at least 78% CH. The higher the CH amount, the better!

Also keep in mind that while CH has a long shelf life, it is NOT indefinite. When stored in a container that is opened for 10 minutes every day, it will lose about 5% of its available chlorine after about 40 days.

If left open for 40 days, it could lose up to almost 20%. It needs to be kept in a cool, dark, and dry place. Containers should be tightly sealed and be corrosive resistant. In addition, it is considered a hazardous material and should be handled with caution.

Eye protection and gloves should be worn when handling, and you should be in a well-ventilated area as inhaling it could irritate the lungs and over time may cause a build-up of fluid on the lungs, ie. pulmonary edema.

In addition, you should keep it away from other chemicals, ESPECIALLY any form of acids. CH is chemically reactive with many substances. Any contamination of CH with other substances could cause a chemical reaction and/or fire.

And because CH is a strong oxidizer, it is capable of intensifying a fire once started.

After hitting Wal-Mart and two other local pool supply stores, the best I could find was POOLIFE TurboShock 78% Pool Shock.

Here is a link to its MSDS My only concern with this product as a water purifier is that it has a small percentage of calcium carbonate in it.

While calcium carbonate is found in some supplements, food preservatives, and toothpastes, excessive ingestion can lead to milk-alkali syndrome. This could be fatal.

Unfortunately I do not have enough knowledge in chemistry to know if the amount in this pool shock is small enough to not be a concern. If there are any chemists or medical personnel with expertise in this area, please reach out to us. I would love to have an experienced professional’s opinion on this matter.

3) Boiling water for 1 minute will make it 100% safe to drink

While it is true that boiling water will kill most pathogens, it won’t kill ALL of them. For example, some forms of  botulism must be heated to temps greater than 212°F to be killed, and you cannot heat water past its boiling point of 212 °F. (Unless you use a pressure cooker.)

Now these cases are extremely rare, but it is something you should be aware of.

In addition, the boiling point of water changes based upon your elevation. The boiling point of water drops at higher elevations. So depending upon where you are at, you may need to boil your water for longer than a minute.

Water temperatures above 158 °F will kill most pathogens within 30 minutes and above 185 °F within 5 minutes.

Finally, and most importantly, boiling will not remove chemicals that have boiling points above 212 °F, Heavy metal contamination will not be removed via boiling either. (Hence you should never drink flood water.)

To remove pollutants like that you would need an activated charcoal filter. (Which by itself does not remove pathogens.)

In fact, boiling water with chemicals in it could release those chemicals into the air…presenting another potential hazard.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t boil water to make it potable. Boiling water is highly effective and will kill most waterborne pathogens. But it is not 100% fool proof. Having a secondary water purification method is always a good idea.

4) My dog (pet) is drinking it so it must be ok

I’ve seen people post this on prepper sites before. And it is simply NOT true. Animals and humans immune systems, while fairly similar, are still different in many ways.

Each can ingest things that the other cannot – dogs should not eat chocolate, for example. And we humans (hopefully) don’t eat out of the cat box or drink out of the toilet.

I won’t go into a whole molecular biology case study, but I will say that we humans are much more susceptible to a whole range of diseases than other mammals.

For example, scientists are finding out that diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B don’t affect primates the way that they affect humans. So obviously parasites and viruses will effect dogs and cats differently than humans.

Every day we ingest a huge amount of bacteria. This is a good thing as it helps us to develop immunities to many other pathogens. But animals ingest WAY MORE bacteria than humans.

So dogs are generally not as susceptible to things like E. coli, giardia, and cryptosporidium. This is good example of why Montezuma’s revenge hits tourists much worse than the locals….ie the locals have built up a tolerance to many of the local impurities in their water.

But animals can still get these and other parasites/viruses in their system from water. So your water plan should also incorporate clean water for all of your pets.

5) In an emergency you can drink your own urine

UGH!! I think I hate this one the most. Urine is about 90-95 percent water, but the remaining 5-10 percent is not very good for you—that’s why your body is getting rid of it. It carries excess electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium.

Urine also carries small traces of excess toxins in the form of acids from your kidney, but you’d need to drink a lot for that to do damage.

Some electrolytes are good as they enable some of our cells to conduct electricity. But too much sodium draws water out of your cells, dehydrating you.  (And too much potassium leads to a heart attack.)

So with urine, you are putting sodium back into your system. This can only dehydrate you further. Basically, it is comparable to drinking ocean water. According to the NOAA website,

Human kidneys can only make urine that is less salty than salt water. Therefore, to get rid of all the excess salt taken in by drinking seawater, you have to urinate more water than you drank. Eventually, you die of dehydration even as you become thirstier.

gryllsDrinking urine for survival is even more harmful, since dehydration makes urine less diluted, and all those electrolytes and acids appear in greater concentration. So while Bear Grylls might drink his urine for a TV show, in a true survival situation, you are only compounding your problem.

In my opinion, a long term water plan is one of the most important aspects of any survival plan. More than food, security, etc. Unsafe drinking water is the number one cause of death on our planet. Over 3.5 million people die every year because of it. Half of the hospital beds on Earth are filled with patients suffering from water related illnesses. 200 children an hour die due to water related illnesses!!

To me, clean drinking water is of utmost importance to any survival plan. We in America take clean drinking water for granted…until something happens like a chemical spill in West Virginia, the water problems in Toledo, Ohio, or even the water cutoff in Detroit.

Now imagine all of that compounded by a true emergency or disaster scenario. …

Graywolf: James is absolutely spot-on with the pee-drinking thing. Especially as you get dehydrated because your urine gets worse to drink, which is why it turns darker the more dehydrated you get. If you want to be able to drink your urine safely (or ocean water), the best way is to either use a desalinator or distill it.

You can buy a survival desalinator like the military uses, which will work quite well. This is one of the best options because it doesn’t require power.

If you have electricity, you can use an electric water distiller but they will only do about 6 gallons a day. Some of them, like the one I linked to there, have carbon filters that you can use in addition to the distillation process.

If you want to learn several ways how to filter or purify water in a survival situation, you should look at the SAS Survival Handbook, Revised Edition: For Any Climate, in Any Situation. It’s a great book.

Personally, I keep a Sawyer Mini Water Filtration System in each bag and one at the house so I always have a way to filter water – and even one on my desert warrior harley. Because it has a plunger, you can filter thousands of gallons with it.

I wrote a review of the sawyer filter here.

About James L

A police officer in Oklahoma, James is a gun enthusiast and certified police instructor. In his off time, he is a single father who enjoys playing with his kids and watching football.

Come visit his Preparedness site at Plan and Prepared


  1. We upped our water heater a few years ago from 40 to 50 gallons … it’s one of those sources for additional water that people forget about.

  2. Good stuff on water. In addition to having various methods to filter or purify it I believe at minimum people should have a 1 month supply on hand (minimum).

    As for the urine…I’ve drank my own ONE TIME. Had to try it, never again. Absolutely disgusting.

  3. Graywolf—I couldn’t access the Army site for water prep. Is it down, can u re-post it?? Don’t know what to do, would really like to get this info.


  4. Another great article!I’m teaching water safety/purification class this Saturday.I will be passing out the 2 page pdf from the article along with my other info.I have used SODIS myself for a period of 3 weeks.It works too.As with most things worthwhile,work and common sense come into play.Nothing will thin your “herd” quicker than drinking contaminated water and bad hygiene in SHTF. Sad,a work ethic and common sense seem to be in short supply lately…Thanks again James and Graywolf

  5. TrailingSpouse says

    Boiling WILL kill most bacteria, viruses, amoeba and other pathogens, although some spore-forming pathogenic bacteria are more robust (including Clostridium difficile, tetanus and anthrax) this is why autoclaves are used for surgical instruments. But for drinking water, boiling will be more than enough to remove pathogens (but not pollutants).

    Also to note that antibiotics can make you more susceptible to infection – with no ecosystem in your gut, no ecological competition from natural flora and fauna – its ripe for being colonised by something else. In a healthy gut a few pathogens won’t be a problem – a significant proportion of people harbour pathogens with no ill effects.

    Don’t drink water from radiators (I’ve seen it mentioned somewhere as an option) – it will be WAY worse than swimming pool water!

    Even clear filtered water can still contain microbes. However it has been shown that leaving water in the sun for a few hours will kill most microbes (UV) but only if the water) and container is clear – plastic is best (if its still cloudy the microbes can ‘hide’ from the UV).

    There are biological filtration methods for water that will go a long way towards making it clean enough to drink. Slow sand filtration being one. In this case its the bacteria in the sand that are doing the filtering – 95%+ reduction in bacterial and organic load is possible. These systems can also remove (metabolise) many organic pollutants too. Even heavy metals can be ‘hyper-acumulated’ in certain plants or algae.

    Swimming pools can be filtered with plant-based systems, potentially creating a system that provides a treatable water reservoir as well as some food / medicine /craft materials as well.

    Even very seriously contaminated water can be treated with ‘ecological design’ – anyone interested should check out Dr John Todd’s work.

    There’s a huge mine of resources in the world of Appropriate Technology – water harvest, storage, pumping and filtration. Much of the world has never stopped being dependent on these systems.

  6. Patti sadler says

    i’m just starting out ( i know ) more then likely i’ll be bugging in so with that said i have been stocking up on water when i can find it steamed distilled water or should i get spring water i do know not to get any that have additives thank you for the tips on filtration will check into this

  7. Delores Lyon says

    Wow, I had no idea that sodium hypochlorite could be used to purify drinking water in the case of an emergency! I really need to find some of the stuff and keep it in out basement. It would be nice to have that stuff in case our water supply ever got tampered.

    • late2theParty says

      Sodium Hypochlorite & water is bleach. Calcium Hypochlorite is used as pool shock. Both release Chlorine ions in water and the chlorine does the sanitizing. Once either one is exposed to air, it breaks down over time. I have some of both in powdered/dried form, sealed with oxygen reducers in sealed plastic containers.

      Just remember that chemicals can kill lots of life, but heavy metals and other poisons aren’t alive. Distillation and filtering are key in those cases. I use chemicals to pre-treat water (rain barrels), then use distillation and filtering on the same water later. Note – you will want to save some small amounts of ‘raw’ water(for me, rain, for others water after the chlorine or iodine treatment) to add back to the treated water – long term drinking of extremely distilled water leads to elemental loss from the body; our body expects water to have some metals and minerals, without it, we lose what we already have.

      We have X gallons of sealed, treated water, rain barrels and tarps, chemical treatment, and filters. Where we live, we get 53″ of rain a year so having only a 100+ gallons of bottled water is ok, we’ve also got the rain caches and a river very close. Multiple sources is key.

  8. I want to build an emergency water filtration system that would filter local river water, about the color of coffee with creamer. My idea is to get a 10 gallon plastic container, attach a series of water filter cartridges via PVC, and have it gravity feed into a catch basin. What I am not so sure of, and what I am hoping someone can help me with, is will the water freely flow through these cartridges? Would it help if the input water container was lifted above the output to create more downward gravity pressure on the water and force it to flow through the filters, and if this is so then how do I determine how high up it needs to be?

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